“Hey, Isaac,” I said to my 12-year-old son, “let’s go to…uh…you know…uh…I mean…damn…you know…what’s-it-called…the place we always go shopping…”
“Walmart?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Yes,” I fairly screamed, “that’s it! You want to go to Walmart?”
And so we did.
For me, though, it was a less-than-satisfying excursion. Once again, a word had escaped me. Not a rare or complicated one, mind you, but a familiar term I use every day. Wait, let me rephrase that; one I use every day that I can remember it.
Welcome to old age.
Forgetting words, I’m told, is a normal part of it. You’re deep in conversation, talking a mile a minute, about to make a deeply considered point, when suddenly, inexplicably, the correct word simply disappears. Like a mischievous fish nibbling on your hook but refusing to get snagged, it just sits there dangling on the tip of your tongue, tormenting you with its stubborn invisibility. Which, for someone like me to whom words are important, is nothing short of maddening.
And so I quickly substitute another, less-perfect word, hoping no one will notice. Or stammer and stutter until my young son can fill in the blanks.
The lurking boogeyman, of course, is Alzheimer’s; a devastating disease that attacks older adults, ultimately rendering them devoid of memory, personality, autonomy, and life. Perhaps my fear of it is more vivid than most, having watched the Alzheimer’s-driven demise of my father over the last decade of his life. For him, the radio operator on a merchant ship, it began with getting jettisoned in Alaska after forgetting the Morse Code at age 62 and ended ten years later in a rest home where—diapered in a wheelchair—he couldn’t speak, write, or recognize anyone around him. That dark image of my father helpless and alone has not gone away.
He died in 1989 when the concept of Alzheimer’s was fairly new and its antidotes nonexistent. To an extent, that’s still true. But a recent Vox headline offered some unprecedented hope: “A new era for Alzheimer’s treatment begins,” it declared, immediately grabbing my attention.
Turns out the US Food and Drug Administration has granted full approval of a potent new anti-Alzheimer’s medication called lecanemab being marketed under the brand name Legembi. And in the next few weeks, new clinical trials are expected for yet another promising candidate, donanemab, likely to spark what some news outlets are calling “a new gold rush” in pharmaceutical research. “Within the next year,” Vox breathlessly predicts, “Alzheimer’s patients could conceivably have access to not just one treatment, but two.”
Not that I’m particularly worried or obsessed about it. Despite a recent confession to my former wife that I sometimes experience confusion regarding the significant number of pills I take each morning. Which resulted in her unsolicited gift of a medication organizer with neat little capsule compartments separated by times and days of the week.
“Hey, this is really cool!” I told my current (and much-younger) wife. “It eliminates the likelihood of accidentally taking the same pill twice.”
“Yeah,” she responded wryly, “caused by early Alzheimer’s.”
Well, perhaps. But, hey, it sounds like there’s some imminent good news on that front. So all I can say is bring it in. I mean, on.
David Haldane’s latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon and Lazada. An award-winning author, journalist, essayist, and radio broadcaster, Haldane is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.